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‘Extraordinary’ means what the Governor says it means

Today political commentator Jon Ralston posted on his website that the 27th Special Session, convened the day after the 77th Regular Session failed to complete all of its business within the constitutionally mandated 120-day limit, “was not an extraordinary event, by any definition.” Ralston argues the business for which Governor Brian Sandoval convened the special session was not important enough to constitute an “extraordinary occasion[]” that the Nevada Constitution requires before a special session may be convened. Luckily for everyone’s sanity, this is a point of law that the Nevada Supreme Court squarely rejected in 1940. I can spare my readers the trouble of reading Ralston’s rant, quoting his first sentence: “Just a thought, not that anyone would ever raise the issue in court.” But for the die-hards and masochists among my readers, and as I’ll explain below, there is no threat of having to go back to Carson City; the Supreme Court will not invalidate the 27th Special Session.

The Nevada Constitution, in both Article 4, Section 2A, and in Article 5, Section 9, states that the Legislature may be convened in special session “on extraordinary occasions.” The term “extraordinary occasions” is not defined. No matter, because the Nevada Supreme Court, in In re Platz, 60 Nev. 296, 108 P.2d 858 (1940), has held that the determination of what circumstances constitute an extraordinary occasion warranting urgent legislative action outside of a regular session is a determination to be made by the Governor. In considering a challenge to a law* enacted at a special session because it was “not of an urgent nature and of such a type as to admit of no delay,” the Court wrote

As to the urgency of the legislation, we think it was to be determined solely by the governor. The section of the constitution invests him with extraordinary powers. He is invested exclusively with the power to determine what occasion shall warrant the convening of the legislature in special session and to designate what subject of legislative business shall be transacted thereat. In re Governor’s Proclamation, 19 Colo. 333, 35 P. 530. The language “such other legislative business as the governor may call to the attention of the legislature” is not susceptible of a construction that would negate these powers.

*Ironically enough, the law challenged was the State Bar Act. After a lawyer was disciplined and suspended from the practice of law, the lawyer challenged the Act on numerous grounds, including that it was not enacted at a properly-called special session.

The Nevada Attorney General cited to Printz in confirming the view that only the Governor gets to decide whether an extraordinary occasion exists warranting the call of a special session. Op. Nev. Att’y Gen. 2001-14 (June 12, 2001). Mason’s Manual of Legislative Procedure at section 780(10) notes that “neither the legislature nor the judicial department has any power to call the governor to account” over the calling of a special session, citing to judicial decisions from Georgia, Kansas, and Nebraska, well-known bastions of radical liberal ideology.†

I understand Ralston’s point is less about the law and more about the moral propriety of calling a special session when there is no real urgent situation needing immediate attention. But if there is moral or political outrage to be expressed, it’s over the 120-day limit, biennial sessions, and term limits, not what the meaning of “extraordinary” is. Perhaps Ralston is just having Carson City withdrawals.

†That’s sarcasm, in case it wasn’t conveyed across the interwebs.

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